By Kyra M. Fallon
Sitting down in my Intro to Peace and Justice Studies class at the beginning of this semester, I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. The syllabus looked like it had come from an entirely different class; books about wealth inequality, food, and migrant work were on the schedule. Nothing that I had expected. I didn’t see the connection at all. We began the semester by trying to define “peace” and “justice,” a difficult task to be sure. We concluded with the understanding that the two concepts were connected, and that they had something to do with an idea of “well-being” and “right relations” in the world.
Still, I kept thinking, how does this relate to food? Food is food. You buy it, you cook it, you eat it, end of story. Then we read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which was part of the adventure that brought me to the small farm called Amazing Heart in Orrtanna, PA.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma is an exploration of the food chain in the United States. In the book, Pollan explores both the culture and the implications of the way we eat as Americans. One of the most startling revelations that came out of this book, for me, was the recognition that the food that we eat is so much more than just a social or pleasurable experience (even though it can and should be both of those things). The food we eat is the direct way that we nourish our bodies using energy from the sun. The process of growing that food is a chain of input and output that changes the sun’s energy into something that fuels our bodies and (hopefully) delights our senses! And yet, in the US, something like 1/3 of our meals are eaten in a car! Somehow, we have been taught to think of food as something that has very little meaning or use beyond preventing that hollow feeling in our stomach. The industrial, fast food, cheap food market has really removed well-being from the equation and replaced it with convenience and speed.
If “peace” and “justice” have to do with well-being for people, animals, and the earth, then the way we eat is very much a peace and justice issue! In order to explore this further, I signed up to participate in service learning at Amazing Heart. Amazing Heart would fall into the food chain that Pollan calls “pastoral.” It’s a small, community supported farm that is run, not with profit as the main goal, but with the well-being of the land it is on and the people it serves. Elizabeth told me all kinds of awesome ways that she avoids using harmful chemicals or wasting electricity to irrigate her crops. The amount of care that goes into the food at Amazing Heart is simply fantastic! Working on the farm with Elizabeth has shown me first-hand the type of thing that Pollan wrote about in his book – the way that food can be more than a “thing,” it can be an experience that connects us not only to our bodies which it nourishes but also to the earth which nourishes it.
If my mom could see me down on my hands and knees, covered in dirt, gladly pulling weeds out of the onion beds and even encountering more than a few spiders there in the soil, she would be floored. My friends on campus ask me, “What’s this farm you keep talking about?” I never thought I’d enjoy this kind of work, but there’s something bigger going on than just some time in the sun. You see, there’s this thing that happened, somewhere between finding my first big fat worm in the soil and seeing the finished bed all weeded, when I realized the bigger process that I was becoming a part of by getting my hands dirty. Not only was I feeling, smelling, experiencing the process of making food, I was becoming a part of that process. The work of my hands was going to lead to super-yummy veggies that someone was going to be able to cook up and not only nourish their bodies with, but (hopefully) enjoy immensely!